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Cornell University celebrates annual Dragon Day

Written by Angela Poffenbaugh and Sandra Aguirre

Cornell University freshman Chi Yamakawa wipes her forehead as she continues to push a life-sized, steel dragon down the streets of Cornell University along with her fellow classmates. After weeks of advertising the event plus a week of building this life sized dragon, Yamakawa’s hard work has paid off.

Cornell’s Campus Band plays as the dragon is carried across the grass.
Cornell’s Campus Band plays as the dragon is carried across the grass.

People in costumes parade around her, dancing to the music and constantly chanting, “Oi, oi, oi!” Even though Yamakawa is exhausted from carrying this dragon, her smile stretches from ear to ear as she celebrates her first Dragon Day.

Dragon Day has been a long lasting tradition since 1901 and was continued last Friday. First year architecture students created a vast dragon that marches across campus while architecture upperclassmen create outrageous costumes. The dragon is carried to the Arts Quad where it battles a phoenix that was created by their rivals, the engineering students.   

Dragon Day hasn’t just been used as a rivalry, but also a way for the Cornell community to come together. Third year graduate student of the architecture program, Brian Havener said his favorite part of the event was the University coming together.

“Most people make them [costumes] using their own skillsets and materials which is pretty exciting,” Havener said. “People get together and we kind of express maybe an idea or something they’re interested in for their costume.”

Yamakawa says she didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she and her friend volunteered to help orchestrate the event.

“I actually volunteered myself but didn’t know what I was getting into.” Yamakawa said. “So that included advertising t-shirts, murals, awareness for the campus, posters, [contacting] alumni, and also our social media.”

Yamakawa was a co-head for advertising the event even though she says she had no idea what to expect of the actual event,

“Dragon Day was not at all what I expected it to be,” Yamakawa said. “You learn about [your classmates] and struggle through so much together. In the end I was so proud of what we made together.”

Dragon Day continues as tradition since 1901

Cornell University attributes Dragon Day to Cornell alumni Willard Dickerman, a former architecture student who graduated in 1901. Dickerman thought the College of Architecture should have its own day; therefore he chose to celebrate it on St. Patrick’s Day.

The first Parade of Dragon Day had an initiation for the first year architecture class. Traditionally, students would carry the dragon through the streets and, the parade would end with the dragon burning at the Arts Quad. It is unknown as to why the dragon was burnt and as to how Dragon Day got its name.

Kevin Lemanowicz ‘91 says he remembers his first Dragon Day in 1988 being confusing and hectic.

“There was a dragon, of course, but there was also a knight confronting it made by engineering students,” Lemanowicz said. “It all ended in a spectacular fiery blaze. The dragon was burned to the ground.”

It is also unknown as to how Dragon Day got its name

Students from the College of Architecture and the College of Engineering were in constant competition with each other. This competitive spirit developed throughout history leading to now, which is encompassed in the “construction of a creature” done by the engineering students to “challenge the dragon symbolically – specifically, a phoenix.”

For decades, Dragon Day was celebrated on St. Patrick’s Day or before Spring Break. In 2013, a new academic calendar was introduced to Cornell University where students now celebrate Dragon Day before they leave campus for Spring Break in early spring.

Dragon Day creates social awareness for different platforms

Historically, Cornell students also use Dragon Day as a platform where they bring attention to a social issue. In the past, some issues have centered around red tapism, prohibition, and the Vietnam War.

Cornell Architecture students cheer as they carry their dragon across campus.
Cornell Architecture students cheer as they carry their dragon across campus.

This year the theme was Louder Together, celebrating activism in the community. With political tensions in the air, freshman Victoria Clarke believes this year’s theme is important.

“Based on the social climate this year, we really wanted to promote a community instead of being divided,” Clarke said. “Especially for Cornell University, the election was a really huge tension that caused a lot of division, grief and sadness.”

Yamakawa hopes that this year’s theme not only makes a statement on the political issues in the air but also helps ensure the architecture students having more of a say in Dragon Day in the upcoming years.

“In a few years we want to have a say in Dragon Day rather than it being just a celebration of our major,” Yamakawa said. “I think that’s really going to stand out in the history of Dragon Day, just giving it another meaning.”

She says she’d love to see people from all over the town of Ithaca come together to fully illustrate the theme of being louder together.

“I want Ithaca College to come and be involved too,” Yamakawa said. “This theme ‘louder together’ it would be awesome for a bunch of people to come in and celebrate.

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